Plainfield, NJ: Vail's Hometown
In 1684, a group of English and Scottish Quakers came to the United States in order to escape the intense persecution towards the Society of Friends, settling in what would become Plainfield, New Jersey. Men with powerful networks of connections in Scotland and higher levels of education such as John Barclay, Thomas and Charles Gordon, John Forbes, James Johnstone, and Robert and Thomas Fullerton became proprietors of the new land. A large portion of this group went on to take leadership positions in the government of Plainfield, helping to shape its future direction and development (Scrapbook).
According to Vail's scrapbook of newspaper clippings, Plainfield was originally called the “Scotch Plains” in honor of both its original settlers and its geographical characteristics. Vail was very interested in the study of genealogy and local history, and wrote several articles that give a glimpse at the Plainfield community as it began to build a permanent home. These articles were written as separate segments, released at different times in several installments, each one entitled, "Early Reminiscences of Plainfield and Vicinity" and signed "a Native."
As a newly settled community, Plainfield had a long period of development and expansion led by the founding Quaker families. Vail's own historical interpretation discusses in detail how the families of the early years of Plainfield constructed their own houses, first out of wig-wam and later out of more traditional materials. This self-reliance and independence helped shape the farming-based community characteristic of Plainfield during Vail’s early life. Vail’s ancestors, both the Vail and Webster families, were essential to the foundation of Plainfield.
In the last installment of his "Early Reminiscences of Plainfield and Vicinity," Vail describes the ultimate fates of the original settlers, including his own family. He provides a brief genealogical account of several of the founding families, as well as information regarding the land in the Plainfield area held by each of these families. He describes his own family's land on his father's side, which was located towards the upper half of Plainfield. Vail's ancestor, John Vail, though originally native to Long Island, was one of the early settlers and also therefore one of the first members of the Plainfield Monthly Meeting. On his mother's side, his ancestor William Webster settled toward the south of Plainfield. Webster was native to Scotland and was believed to have come over with the Barclays in the original migration fleeing persecution.
The Meeting of the Society of Friends in Plainfield began in 1686 with a meeting at Perth Amboy and initially met in local residences. It ultimately established an official meetinghouse in 1788. This meetinghouse is still in use today. Pictured to the left is the interior of the building, which has been kept relatively true to its original construction.
Hugh D. Vail's Scrapbook of newspaper clippings, pages 4-9.
“Story of Friends in Plainfield is Given Before Historical Society.” Plainfield, N.J., Courier-News, Mar 30, 1929.